We're down to the final three candidates to purchase the Dodgers, and a winner could be selected within a week. Nary a day goes by when I don't get asked about the ownership derby, so I think it's worthwhile to break down the final three. Before I do, I'll state that I have reason to believe the Dodger Stadium parking lots will be included in any final deal.
Group 1 - SAC Capital Avisors founder Steve Cohen, super agent Arn Tellem, and biotech company founder Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong
At this point it appears that Cohen is the favorite to wind up with the team. Cohen has reportedly offered the most cash of any bid, and his effort received a boost when Soon-Shiong joined the group, spurning business associate Magic Johnson. While Cohen may be the favorite, he's also the candidate who we know the least about.
I've heard plenty of Dodgers fans say they're rooting against Cohen. They don't like that Cohen lives in Connecticut and that his company SAC Capital has been under investigation by the SEC. Those criticisms may be unfair though. The value of local ownership can be overrated (I haven't heard any Angels fans complain that Arte Moreno is based in Arizona), and to date Cohen has been cleared of any wrongdoing in the recent SEC investigation. Furthermore, with a net worth over $8 billion, Cohen may be in the best position to lavishly spend on the expensive free agents that Dodgers fans have hungered for.
The presence of Soon-Shiong - the richest man in LA - boosts Cohen's local credentials. But I think the presence of Tellem is one of the more interesting aspects of his bid. A super agent in both baseball and basketball, Tellem's life was partially the inspiration for the HBO TV show Arli$$.
It's rumored that Tellem would become CEO or President of the Dodgers should Cohen purchase the team. The only other agent to lead a baseball team was Jeff Moorad who served as CEO of the Arizona Diamondbacks and just resigned as CEO of the San Diego Padres. It's difficult to make any judgments about Tellem's potential leadership of the Dodgers based on Moorad's history, because Moorad's situation is very unique. However, I always thought it was fascinating that Moorad hired two general managers who were disciples of Theo Epstein - Josh Byrnes in Arizona and later San Diego, and Jed Hoyer in San Diego. Both GMs ascribed to a "Moneyball" philosophy, which involve exploiting market inefficiencies to maximize value and often times helps small market teams compete.
No field manager has been more critical of the "Moneyball" philosophy over the years than future Hall-of-Famer Tony La Russa, who reportedly could lead baseball operations under a Cohen-owned Dodgers. Few managers in history have been better at understanding a clubhouse and communicating with players than La Russa, and there's no question that his insights and experience would benefit any ballclub.
However, it's hard to see how someone who has chided the sabermetric movement could lead a modern day baseball front office.
The irony of La Russa's outspoken criticism though over the years is that he has gone against baseball conventional wisdom in a way that many sabermetricians would praise. La Russa made use of statistical analysis more than most managers, and that led him to innovations like the creation of the modern day closer role, batting the pitcher eighth, or at one point experimenting by using three starting pitchers a game in a "pod system." His video game Tony La Russa Baseball was a favorite of the sabermetric community in the early-1990s.
Perhaps if La Russa did take over the Dodgers baseball operations, he could bring over some of the same player development people from St. Louis who helped the Cardinals win a World Series with major contributions from unknown young players like David Freese, Allen Craig, Jason Motte, and Jaime Garcia. The Dodgers farm system is ranked 24th in Baseball America's most recent list, and is in sore need of a makeover.
Cohen has also reportedly brought in architecture firm Populous to examine ways to renovate Dodger Stadium. Anyone who buys the Dodgers is going to have to upgrade the building and Populous has as much experience as any firm, having now designed more than half of the stadiums in baseball. But Populous has also faced criticism in recent years for making its new retro parks feel like copycats of one another.
Group 2 - Magic Johnson, former Braves and Nationals president Stan Kasten, Guggenheim Partners CEO Mark Walter
This group has reportedly offered the most money at $1.6 billion and Johnson's presence has made it the favorite of most Angelinos. Widely loved in Los Angeles, Magic has had one of the most successful business careers of any retired player in any sport.
Still, it's Guggenheim Partners CEO Mark Walter who would be providing most of the money in this deal, and he's someone who we quite frankly know little about. He lives in Chicago and has expressed a desire to stay in the background while Johnson and Kasten run the show.
Kasten's presence in the group is quite interesting. A two-time NBA Executive of the Year with the Atlanta Hawks, Kasten has served as president of the Hawks, Atlanta Braves, Atlanta Thrashers, and more recently, the Washington Nationals. Kasten did a phenomenal job running the Braves, presiding over their remarkable run of success in the 1990s. His Nationals teams did not have much success on the field, but he did play a key role in getting a new stadium built in Washington.
Johnson has the charisma and credibility to instantly win over Dodger fans and the Los Angeles community at large. But we really don't know what the Dodgers would be like on the field under a Johnson/Kasten team. My guess is that they'd be pretty good, since Johnson should be able to recruit free agents and Kasten would hopefully bring in the right people to rebuild the farm system.
Group 3 - Stan Kroenke
Without question Kroenke is the most experienced and successful sports owner of the group. Currently the owner of the St. Louis Rams and the majority shareholder of English Premiere League club Arsenal, Kroenke also owned the Denver Nuggets and Colorado Avalanche before NFL cross-ownership rules led to transfer control of those franchises to his son Josh. He also owns the Colorado Rapids of MLS and Colorado Mammoth of the National Lacrosse League (NLL).
A Missouri native, Kroenke has been a successful real estate developer. He also had the good fortune of marrying Ann Walton Kroenke, a Wal-Mart heir. I know a number of people in the sports industry who have worked for Kroenke and all of them have great things to say about him. His teams have generally been good too, as he's won a Super Bowl ring with the Rams, a Stanley Cup with the Avalanche, an MLS Cup with the Rapids, an NLL title with the Mammoth, and if not for a Trevor Ariza steal in the 2009 Western Conference Finals, he might have won an NBA title with the Nuggets. Kroenke also has a house in Malibu, so he has some understanding of Los Angeles.
But the biggest and most obvious question regarding a potential Kroenke-led Dodgers has to do with his ownership of the Rams. The NFL does not allow its owners to have teams in other sports in the same city in which an NFL team plays. The logic is that they don't want NFL owners competing with each other for the same sponsors and for other local revenue. Those cross-ownership rules forced him to relinquish control of the Nuggets and Avalanche last year when he decided to take over a majority interest in the Rams.
Currently there is no NFL team in Los Angeles, so Kroenke is theoretically clear to own the Dodgers. But if a team like the Chargers were to hypothetically move to LA, then Kroenke may have to sell either the Rams or the Dodgers. Some believe the NFL's cross-ownership rules to be fairly antiquated though, and an exception could always be made.
Of course, another possibility is that Kroenke is trying to purchase the Dodgers as part of a bigger plan to move the Rams to LA. His ownership could put Chavez Ravine back in play as a football stadium site. Or he could have the Rams play at Dodger Stadium temporarily while waiting for an AEG football stadium to be built downtown. Kroenke is known to be friends with fellow Denver billionaire Phil Anschutz.
All of this is speculation though. Regardless, Kroenke's ownership of the Rams makes him something of a dark horse among the three finalists.